In an industry well known for its competitive nature, the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) has earned an enviable reputation. Ranked among the top-five fashion schools in the world, the State University of New York (SUNY) campus has an enrollment of more than 10,000 students and can lay claim to such fashion luminaries as Brian Atwood, Calvin Klein and Michael Kors among its alumni. But FIT is more than a fashion school, and what is less known is the wide range of art, business, design, technology and business courses it offers. “We actually have a high concentration on business here – the most popular major is fashion merchandising marketing – a business degree,” points out Carla Oliver Bowens, Barnes & Noble at FIT Store Manager. For Bowens and her staff, it’s precisely the very wide choice of course offerings at FIT that makes for an interesting store and for a most eclectic range of merchandise.
Alongside required textbooks and course materials, you’ll find some curious tools of the trade at Bowens’ store. Consider a miniature magnifying glass enabling textile science students to calculate actual thread count, or dress forms, leather for belts, accessories and shoes, fabrics by the yard and a wide variety of special glues. “We do have some very specific student needs at this campus,” Bowens explains, adding, “We just try to make sure we can somehow get it all in our store.”
In an effort to provide her customers with what they need to succeed at FIT, Bowens is constantly adding to her inventory. In response to a burgeoning screen printing program, for example, she’s looking to stock a plentiful supply of plain t-shirts, and to cater to the requirements of the jewelry design department, she will soon be adding a new jewelry category in the store. Even fashionistas crave school colors, and in her merchandise section, Bowens is adding an array of new logo apparel in navy blue and orange, but with a campus comprised of eighty-five percent women, she knows to also stock a lot of pink.
Located in the basement in the Chelsea student center for over six years, Bowens’ store has proven itself to be about more than just retailing. It reflects the needs and concerns of the entire campus and the students she serves. FIT supports a robust student life program, and recently, interior design students Natalie Zepeda and Kristeen Arnold helped spearhead the Interior Design Relief Project, a program offering free design plans and consulting to help restore the damaged homes of over 17 Long Beach, N.Y. families in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Because many FIT students were also affected by the hurricane, Bowens swiftly arranged for charges to be waived for rental books damaged in the storm. The store has also helped support causes such as the school’s Haiti appeal six years ago.
Although she admits to not coming from a fashion background, Bowens has been quick to keep the store closely in step with events on campus. In addition to hosting author events for a long list of Bravo TV fashion celebrities, such as Andy Cohen and Brad Goreski, the store has also organized special promotions to coincide with the Shoe Obsession exhibit at The Museum at FIT, become the backdrop of an actual wedding to coincide with a wedding book promotion, and is currently preparing for Grad Week, where the store transforms into graduation central. For Bowens and her team, it’s all part of the widest imaginable range of activities to keep her store fashion forward at FIT.